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Autism and Culture: Colors, Young Adults with Autism, and the “Quiet Hour”

In our weekly looks at how autism and culture interact, we regularly look at how art is used by individuals to express emotions and thoughts they are otherwise unable to, the challenges that young adults with autism face upon leaving the school system, and the benefits of movie theaters and airports showing special screenings and making unique arrangements for those with autism. This week, we look at three recent examples of the above trends and look at some unique spins on those trends.

First up, color is often an essential element to most artists’ practices. This holds especially true for artist Jeremy Sicile-Kira, who sees the world in vibrant colors that include calming purples and blues, attractive oranges and yellows, and soothing greens. However, it’s only recently that he began to share this view with the rest of the world.

Color is evident in everything to me,” says Jeremy, 27, whose form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes the symptom of “grapheme-color synesthesia,” a neurological phenomenon that causes him to perceive letters, words, and feelings in colors. Speaking to NBC News, Jeremy continued: “Autism affects each person differently. For me it means being stuck in a body that doesn’t work well and not being able to speak. It means also frankly being overwhelmed by sound and light.”

To cope with this daily sensory overload, Jeremy has completed a series of pictures that capture the many faces of his friends and families, portraying them through the colors that their facial features, names, and personalities invoke in Jeremy’s mind. In coordination with Autism Awareness Month, his work received its first public showing in San Diego.

Continuing to look at the lives of young adults with autism, a 30-plus-year program in Long Beach, NY has been helping young adults with autism to make the transition to adulthood with ease. Called the College Internship Program, the nationwide efforts first launched in 1984 as a way to provide job counseling, social skills training, and other services intended to help young adults with autism stand a better chance in finding employment and happiness as adults.

While the vast majority of charitable and government funding goes to children with autism, those over the age of 18 often get overlooked in terms of services and funding going to help them transition to adulthood. Once a student with a disability turns 22 or graduates high school, the federal education money for services like behavioral therapy and speech therapy dries up.  But programs like the College Internship Program are helping to bridge this gap by helping young adults to develop the social skills and the confidence that they often lack. As one young student, Claire Bachman, recounted, while she had had a hard time during her high schools days, feeling “left out,” she says that she “tried to forget high school.” Today, she says, “I am a different person now” and “I really want to be a strong, independent woman.”

Finally, while we’ve looked at movie theaters that hold autism-friendly screenings in which the theater lights are turned up and the volume is turned down and the efforts of airports to better accommodate those with autism, a store in Manchester, England has a new idea that we’re hoping will catch on this side of the pond. The ASDA Living Store in Cheetham Hills, Manchester is now introducing what they call a “quiet hour” in which they will turn off escalators, in-store music and display TVs to offer a better experience for shoppers with autism. We will be watching closely to see if these changes spread to other stores.